Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Best Time Of My Life

Today, on the way to office, Rainbow FM 107.1 was playing on my car stereo. RJ Keisha, who hapens to be my favourite was on air. She had this wonderful story on life to share. Here goes: 
It was June 15, and in two days I would be turning thirty. I was insecure about entering a new decade of my life and feared that my best years were now behind me.
My daily routine included going to the gym for a workout before going to work. Every morning I would see my friend Nicholas at the gym. He was seventy-nine years old and in terrific shape. As I greeted Nicholas on this particular day, he noticed I wasn't full of my usual vitality and asked if there was anything wrong. I told him I was feeling anxious about turning thirty. I wondered how I would look back on my life once I reached Nicholas's age, so I asked him, "What was the best time of your life?"
Without hesitation, Nicholas replied, "Well, Joe, this is my philosophical answer to your philosophical question:
"When I was a child in Austria and everything was taken care of for me and I was nurtured by my parents, that was the best time of my life.
"When I was going to school and learning the things I know today, that was the best time of my life.
"When I got my first job and had responsibilities and got paid for my efforts, that was the best time of my life.
"When I met my wife and fell in love, that was the best time of my life.
"The Second World War came, and my wife and I had to flee Austria to save our lives. When we were together and safe on a ship bound for North America, that was the best time of my life.
"When we came to Canada and started a family, that was the best time of my life.
"When I was a young father, watching my children grow up, that was the best time of my life.
"And now, Joe, I am seventy-nine years old. I have my health, I feel good and I am in love with my wife just as I was when we first met. This is the best time of my life." 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Sunday Siesta

Sunday siestas, though a welcome break, bring back a lot of old memories.
Today after a rather heavy brunch and doing a quick read of the newspapers, I turned in, into the bed watching some stupid dance competition on television.
God knows when I fell asleep.
And I drifted into my childhood in my dreams. I was in bed at home, again a Sunday afternoon. The golden rays of the sun filtered in from the west. Papa was struggling to wake me up - telling me that Mom was almost done with Halwa and tea. The sweet fragrant smell of Halwa was wafting in the air.
Delighted at the thought of having Halwa, I was transported from my dreamland to here, Mumbai!
Sigh, it was just a dream - folks are a thousand kilometers away and there's no Halwa here!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Muting the Tweeting Bird

Imagine walking down a wooded lane. All you'll hear is the incessant chirping of birds. Now imagine yourself on Net. The incessant chatter of Twitter follows you here. It's short, it's quick, it's fun, it's exciting being on Twitter.

But it's serious business too. I have interacted with my service providers on Twitter to get an speedy resolution of complaints. Tata Sky was the best - I got a phone call within minutes of tweeting in complaint and the matter was closed within 2 days. That's really good.
Eureka Forbes too was good and fast in resolving my complaint on Twitter.
Tata DoCoMo was bad, but Jet Airways has the ignominy of being the worst in responding to me on Twitter, their responses smacking of arrogance and aloofness!
But then Twitter is really fun when tweeters parody as our politicians. That makes me go back to my Twitter timeline hour after after hour!
Foreign personalities parodied on Twitter - Henry Kissinger and General Kayani are quite funny, so is the parody of Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, the legendary Indian stockbroker.
When the fear psychosis spread amongst North Easterners broke out over the past few days, Twitter was blamed, so were mobile text messages and other virtual media for spreading rumours like wildfire.
That as we all know was used to muzzle the parodies. The real culprits behind the fear psychosis must still be lurking out there somewhere.
But who cares?
The politicians, all so very self-serving and lethargic, saw this as a golden opportunity to cut all the "crap" about them online and sprung promptly into action. The bottomline - our politicians can't tolerate any criticism and just don't have any sense of humour.
But just as you can't stop the birds from chirping, you can't choke the very essence of free speech on Twitter!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Dinner du Jour - Healthy and Wholesome

Holidays are the times when preparing and having food is not a chore, it's a work of art, it's creativity, it's destressing, it's fun.
Monday was a holiday, as the city celebrated Eid. We too celebrated the holiday with great, wholesome, healthy and tasty food. Our fridge was stocked with great fresh vegetables - mushrooms, zucchini, capsicum, bell-peppers and broccoli. We decided to make sauteed vegetables, hung-yogurt cheese spread on toasted multi-grain bread with steaming hot tomato soup.
The hung-yogurt cheese spread has always been the pièce de résistance on our dinner table. This was my Mom's concoction - yogurt was hung overnight in a muslin, the solids retrieved in the morning mixed with a pinch of salt, lots of pepper, cilantro and chopped green chillies.
This time around, we gave Mom's concoction a new twist - we avoided salt - low sodium meals is a fad, we've caught on to! We added finely chopped Del Monte black olives, mashed capers, crushed black, pink, green, white and red peppercorns (that's something we took a fancy to after visiting Coorg). The cheese spread was whisked vigorously to fluff it up with air and it was then chilled.
Next we took on the vegetables. Into the pan went half a teaspoon of Del Monte olive oil, followed by rough onion cubes. When the onions turned light translucent, in went cubed zucchini. Exactly three minutes after that went in broccoli florets, followed by diced capsicum, bell-peppers and halved mushrooms. These were sauteed for the next seven minutes. The vegetables were cooked but retained their unique crunchiness. Then went it a good number of green Del Monte olives followed a sprinkling of oregano, crushed peppercorns and dill - no salt was added, keeping in mind the zero-sodium philosophy. After another two minutes of tossing the vegetables, it was all done.

Slices of multigrain bread were toasted on top of which a thick coating of the cheese spread was applied. For a touch of extra spiciness, we sprinkled Spanish paprika on the toast!
And the food was yum - the spread on toast was absolutely out of the world - flavourful, creamy, spicy with just about a touch of sourness! That went very well with the sauteed vegetables and soup!
It was truly a healthy and wholesome dinner - a dinner du jour
As the the page on Facebook says that the adventurous food lover in you would try the recipes, adjust ingredients to suit your tastes, then call them your own. That's what Neeti and I did - we adapted my Mom's concoction to give a different twist with olives and capers. You too can do that!
Bon appétit!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Another Gourmet Sunday

Another Sunday, another gourmet Sunday.
This morning started off with an amazing breakfast. Only yesterday I had picked up a pack of frozen shrimp from Godrej Nature's Basket. And since Sunday is not the day to have the normal tasteless breakfast I was thinking of various options when I woke up this morning.
Then I remembered Kylie Kwong making a shrimp omelette in one of her shows.
That was it!
Out came the shrimp from my vault, or my freezer. I sauteed the thawed shrimp with finely chopped onion. After the shrimp curled up and turned translucent golden, into the pan went the beaten egg with generous helpings of black olives, Spanish paprika, chopped green chillies, pepper melange, oregano and various other herbs.

The aroma of the sauteing shrimp was awesome.
The hardest part is turning over a heavy omelette. So I chose to fold it this time.
The shrimp omelette went very well with golden crisp toast and ketchup. My only regret - I forgot to put Marmite on my toast!
If breakfasts can be great, why can't dinners be good?
So, instead of ordering a calorie accelerator Dominos pizza, we made our own pizza tonight. On a whole wheat base, a teaspoon of olive oil was spread on top of which went generous amounts of spicy and tangy sauce. Then went sliced mushrooms, assorted peppers and diced onions. A limited amount of cheese was added followed chopped olives and capers!

And it did taste good. Dominos watch out, you're going to loose business here!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Kya Surat Hai, Kya Surat Hai!

This week took me to Surat, the diamond capital of India. I always had an image of Surat in my mind ever since I was a kid. The reason for that was simple - one of Papa's acquaintance, Chhaganbhai Patel, when high on his favourite whiskey, would endlessly blabber about his hometown, Surat, in a comical fashion.
But I wonder what Chhaganbhai will have in "dry" liquor free Surat? Masala chaas perhaps!
Surat is barely 260 kilometers from Mumbai. But getting train reservations for Surat is a task, thanks to IRCTC, where the hit rate for successful bookings would be in single digits.
So I had to book myself on SpiceJet SG 152, that departs Mumbai in the evening for Delhi passing by Surat, in what was to be my first flight on SpiceJet.
The best thing about these low cost carriers is their single minded doggedness about punctuality. We boarded on time. The aircraft which was a Boeing 737, registered as VT-SGC and christened "Fenugreek" took off 5 minutes before schedule - all SpiceJet aircraft are named after spices - Cardamom, Fenugreek, Oregano, etc.
The cabin looked shabby, unlike IndiGo's. My seat was untidy - the seat pocket was dirty. Probably cleaning the aircraft is low on priority!

The crew were neither snooty as Jet Airways nor were they as friendly as IndiGo's. Their uniforms are a bit odd, probably they had engaged a low cost designer?
Quite unexpectedly, we were given a snack box, which had paneer tikka, vegetarian seekh kebab, tandoori aloo, balushahi and fresh sweet lime juice. That was nice.

In about 30 minutes after take-off we began our descent. Surat city looked fantastic from the air - well planned, green open spaces and orderly traffic.
The landing was really bad. We landed with a couple of thumps and bangs and it seemed that the pilots weren't able to steer the aircraft along the centerline of the runway. Low cost pilots or pilots with fake licenses, I wonder?
We were to drive 40 kilometers out of the city along NH8. The drive through the city was pretty smooth. The city looked neat and tidy - I am told the city underwent a major cleanup operation after the outbreak of plague in 1994.
The roads were wide enough, and very smooth, well illuminated. The markets alongside the roads were  glitzy and bright, teeming with people. Eateries alongside the road seemed packed - I sometimes wonder how Gujjus have a great time without booze and chicken. Our driver spoke glowingly about the development in the state, the way economic upliftment has happened in the state under the Chief Minister, Mr. Modi. He called the development a wave that lifted everyone alongwith it.
Undoubtedly, the orderliness of Surat could put Mumbai to shame. It all goes on to show how an able administrator, like Mr Modi, can transform a state. But the point is are systems being created to ensure that the good practices are institutionalized. In India, if we have to progress, we have to create institutions that carry on the good work done so that when the able efficient public servants are voted out, the developmental work continues on unhindered. I am not sure whether that's happening in Gujarat, or even in progressive states like Bihar.
We settled into the guest house that night. The next morning before setting out for our meetings we had breakfast in the guest house itself. Man, I was horrified to see samosas being served for breakfast and nothing else - we were in Gujju land after all. On our special request we were served a few toasts which lasted us till lunch.
In the afternoon we set for Mumbai by road on NH 8. The highway was great and scenic - green with big hills showing up every few kilometers. This was my best road trip, in India!

I Don't Want Nirvana! I Want Great Food, Always! -- Part II

Talking of food, I am reminded of one incident where an African family friend once told my mother that Indian food is far too complicated.
I remembered this thought today morning and my mind started thinking of how food preparation gets complex and complicated as one travels East. Last week, in my blog post I Don't Want Nirvana! I Want Great Food, Always! I had written of how food has evolved over the ages, and how the necessity to consume offal during the middle-ages has brought about the art of charcuterie of today.
During the week, I read about a traditional Icelandic delicacy, kæstur hákarl which is nothing but fermented, putrefied shark meat, with a strong whiff of ammonia. It is believed that the technique involved in preparing kæstur hákarl came about in the ancient times, when locals had to rely on preserved shark meat during the long winter months. Even the most compulsive foodies of all times - Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern found it offensive. Anthony Bourdain called it "the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing" he had ever eaten. Zimmern described the smell as reminding him of "some of the most horrific things I've ever breathed in my life," but said the taste was not nearly as bad as the smell. Nonetheless, he did note that hákarl was "hardcore food" and "not for beginners."
There are other equally offensive Icelandic delicacies that I cannot just wait to devour. Svið is one of such exotic preparations. Svið is made from a sheep's head cut into half, de-furred, and boiled with the brain removed and cured in lactic acid and served with with mashed potatoes and mashed turnip. It is believed that Svið originally arose at a time when people could not afford to let any part of a slaughtered animal go to waste, much like the way offal was consumed in continental Europe.
Svið along with kæstur hákarl form an important part of þorramatur, a traditional Icelandic buffet which also has many other "offensive" delicacies.
How interesting! I can't wait to get to Iceland!
Icelandic food was intimidating for the Gods of food - Bourdain and Zimmern. Imagine how intimidating such exotic stuff can get for the uninitiated like us. But simply put, the stuff that we consider exotic is actually really basic, and is born out of necessity. Preparation is simple, flavourings and seasonings used are really basic.
Last week I wrote about the world's largest food market at Rungis, Paris, which all kinds of food - game, veal, rabbits, wild boar, etc. Now this market had its origins in the 10th century. The market was then located in the centre of Paris, in a huge, 10-hectare area named Les Halles. It became too small to accommodate all of the business demand, and, in 1969, the market was transferred to the suburbs.
The point is simple - for over 10 centuries, the market at Les Halles served the needs of Paris well, with freshest local produce - simple uncomplicated stuff that fed Frenchmen. (Perhaps, in a tribute to the French traditions, there is a restaurant in New York City called Brasserie Les Halles, which is the "homebase" of Anthony Bourdain)
Moving eastwards, towards Germany, food is still simpler than the French. The most well known of the Germanic cuisine is sauerkraut - fermented cabbage, which is popularly had with wursts - German sausages and cold-cuts. I was enough to have sauerkraut with wurst once, when my sister Neelima returned from a trip to Frankfurt with a can of sauerkraut and wurst. I was overjoyed! I enjoyed the delights with local rye bread, in true German style!
The Arabs and Africans too have very simple cuisine. Middle Eastern fare like the hummus, falafel, tabouleh, kibbeh and babaghanoush are a bit bit more advanced than the Arabian Kabsa that I had written about last week - fill it all up in a pot and cook, without any sophistication.
Down south, in Africa, food is exciting but very very basic and uncomplicated. The countries that I am familiar with had some lovely food. Uganda, my homeland, had a staple called matoke - large plantains which are steamed and served with greens, grilled or fried meat or chicken and spicy peanut sauce. I faintly remember the taste - it was great. In fact, as a toddler, I used to love having matoke from my ayah, Theresa's lunch!
Zambia had its own staple - Nshima - a porridge made from ground maize (corn) flour known locally as mealie-meal! Nshima used to have a very starchy and grainy texture and went very well with greens and kidney bean gravies. Needless to say their roast meats were also juicy and tasty. In fact I used to look forward to having Nshima at wedding parties or as guests at our Zambian friends' homes. 
African food is unique in the sense that it is not only uncomplicated and basic, but it also tastes of natural goodness. The natural flavours are not masked by an overdose of spices that we are so used to in other parts of the world.
In the Orient, in places and Thailand and Japan, for instance, food preparation is no less than a work of art. TLC televised a show on Thai food recently, where they visited the royal kitchens. The food being prepared was delicate, beautiful and colourful. The chefs were all skillful, the show mentioned that the chefs underwent years of training to be considered good enough to work in the royal kitchens. 
The Japanese too are a breed apart. I once had sushi at a place here in Mumbai. The sushi was a beauty to look at. It felt criminal to dig into the beautiful and intricate creation that was soon to become my lunch.

But wasabi was a real revelation - I mistook wasabi for a chutney and took a generous dollop but what followed was a nightmarish - my tongue, throat and belly burnt from the sharpness of the wasabi, my eyes watered as though I was weeping and scalp sweat as though I was in an oven. It took large glasses of chilled Coca-Cola  to literally chill it down.
But then once I was fine, I enjoyed my wasabi "responsibly" (as they say when they advertise liquor) with generous amounts of soya sauce and pickled ginger with thin slices of tuna, octopus and squid along with a wide variety of sushi! I was convinced that the Japanese are at the very apex of sophistication in food.
It's that wide spectrum from plain basic and unsophisticated to an extremely intricate work of art, from the obnoxious to the delicate - that makes food so enjoyable. One lifetime is not even enough to savor it all. (Have no doubts - indeed I am including the Icelandic delicacies here!)
That's I don't want Nirvana, I want to be reborn over and over again to partake great food, as it evolves!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Random Thoughts on Independence Day...

This Independence Day comes after an interesting event, the London Olympics.
After the depressing 80s and 90s, India performed wonderfully well at this edition of the Games, beating all expectations back home. Why India has performed better is simple - individual performances were stellar, but we failed in team-based events. Personal excellence overshadowed the overall objectives of the team. That's true at Indian workplaces also. The Olympics is a manifestation of why Indians excel in all spheres, but teams fail.
On this Independence Day we do need to introspection as to why we, Indians, value personal excellence and achievement more than the country's. Perhaps, that will help us grow as a nation.
I was particularly disturbed when certain lumpen elements started targeting my countrymen from the North East in retaliation for the attacks the Rohingyas have faced in Buddhist dominated Myanmar or local violence in Assam. Indians with Mongoloid features are not Myanmarese or "Chinkis", they are fellow Indians, my brothers and sisters who have every right to each grain of this country's soil, as you do and as I do. Not respecting a fellow Indian and infringing a fellow citizen's rights should be severely punished.
Let's not forget, Mary Kom who belongs to the North East brought us glory at the Olympics. Why were we proud to call it an Indian achievement if we can't treat citizens from her areas with respect.
We have already forgotten the persecution of Kashmiri Pandits. Let's not let this violence against North Easterners continue anymore.
We can only call ourselves as Indians only if we respect our fellow countrymen, else we ought to get lost in hell.
News of horrific tales of Pakistani Hindus trying to legitimately cross the border into India have been coming in. My heart bled at their plight. Hindus have been terrorised in that demonic shitty state. Hindu girls have been kidnapped, raped and forcibly converted. Hindus can't think of progressing in that state. They are not allowed to practise their vocation. Their meagre possessions are taken away by force, yet they get no legal succor. It's time our government stood up, gathered some courage and called a spade a spade and did some plain speak on the plight of Pakistani Hindus.
Look at Israel. Any Jew in any part of the world can call Israel home. Ethiopian Jews, numbering over 20,000 were airlifted to Israel in three operations - Operation Moses, Operation Joshua and Operation Solomon. Similarly a million Soviet Jews made their Aliyah to Israel.
Why does India shy away from openly supporting Pakistani Hindus? Why can't the government grant them a free, unfettered and unconditional right of asylum in India?
Let's think of these basics and truly make our country independent of these ills!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Melbourne - A Rich Kaleidoscope Down-Under

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine
That's the way I feel sometimes, about my life - that I know too little, that I have seen too little and I have done too little.
If I could, I would literally go off the beaten track and experience the world one page at a time, gradually, slowly but surely soaking in each experience to soothe my thirsty soul, that yearns so much for more.
As a kid, browsing through pictures in the National Geographic magazine, I had always been fascinated by the big island Down Under, for its unique remoteness, natural beauty, habitat and short but interesting history. 
As I grew up, I learnt more about the world including Australia. My fascination grew at how the place evolved from being a penal colony to a modern and vibrant multi-hued society. The interplay of cultures and intermingling of societies brought about by migration of people of all races has made Australia an melting pot.
A friend visited Australia about a year back and brought back with him interesting anecdotes and experiences that have made my urge to visit Australia even more stronger.
Of all the places Down Under, Melbourne does quite stand out. In a sense, Melbourne is a microcosm of Australia. It is believed that the area that is Melbourne today was inhabited by the native Aboriginals for over 30,000 years. The area had its first European settlers coming in in 1803. But it was the discovery of gold in the state of Victoria in 1851 that brought an exponential growth in settlers. 
In 1901, when the Australian Federation was founded, Melbourne became its founding capital and remained so till 1927. With growth in the local economy, many interesting developments happened - construction happened at a feverish pace. Several buildings came up - the Parliament House, the Treasury Building, the State Library, the Melbourne Town Hall, St Paul's, St Patrick's cathedrals, Queen Victoria Market and the Royal Mint all of which have come to signify the rich and interesting heritage of the city. In what would interest most Indians, the Mecca of cricket, the Melbourne Cricket Ground too came up in the same period.
However, the Second World War changed the demographics of the city. The war in Europe brought in even more settlers here and with settlers come in their traditions and cultures and culinary styles. I am told you can see all that in the cafes and eateries of the city. You can find a kaleidoscope of cuisines here - authentic Greek, Italian, Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, Jewish, Indonesian, Indian, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines here besides local delicacies like kangaroo and emu steaks. Man, that sounds so yum!
For visitors, shopping is a major attraction, as the city is considered as Australia's fashion capital Though I would be more interested in walking down the city discovering the hidden heritage, seeing the city as the locals had seen it evolve over the last century - places like the Old Melbourne Gaol, Royal Exhibition Building, Polly Woodside, Immigration Museum, Eureka Skydeck 88 and the Royal Botanic Gardens. I would also like to take a balloon ride over the city, at dusk watching the bright lights come up, against the backdrop of the setting sun. The ancient Aboriginal art, which has always fascinated me, will take me to the Aboriginal Gallery of Dreamings.
The National Opal Collection sounds very interesting. It is said to be a fascinating attraction, showing an incredible link between opal and the dinosaur - how bones of prehistoric creatures can become opalised.  
Stepping out of the city, I would love to visit the historic mansion at Werribee, the gardens and the steam railway at the Dandenong Ranges and see how the much-loved wines are so carefully tended to in the Yarra Valley
But vibrance of the city, I am told, is best observed from one of the many promenades at any time of the day - I would love to sit there, silently, watching the city go by, sipping my favourite cup of coffee...., turning a few pages in my book of the world! 
Indeed, it's your time to visit Melbourne NOW! 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

I Don't Want Nirvana! I Want Great Food, Always!

As I wrote the blog on Haleem yesterday, an interesting revelation struck me. All the dishes that we so relish today have had very humble provincial beginnings, evolving as societies grew. As an example, Haleem started off as a street-snack in Yemen for people breaking their Ramzan fast. It was not elitist, for sure. Over the years, Haleem traveled to India, Turkey and other parts of Central Asia, evolving in different culinary styles, in each of the cultures, where the dish was adopted.
The Biryani too had similar humble beginnings. To feed the marauding Muslim troops who ransacked much of Central and Southern Asia in the 11th century, the army cooks concocted a no-brainer - meat and rice cooked together in large pots over hours, alongwith with local spices. That surely did make many a hearty meal for the outlaws. Today, the humble dish has evolved in myriad ways, finding its way into both gourmet restaurants and streetcarts, to be relished by people from all classes.
Today there are over a dozen kinds of Biryanis available all over India - the most famous being the Hyderabadi Biryani. There are other varieties too like the Awadhi Biryani, Malabar Biryani, Calcutta Biryani besides lesser known variants that had evolved in Sindh, Kutch, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. From India, Indian diaspora and Muslim migrants have carried the Biryani with them to places like Myanmar, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore and Mauritius.
Another stream of this delectable rice-meat concoction traveled from Central Asia to the then Persia, Arabia and Turkey. In today's Saudi Arabia, there is a rice-meat dish called Kabsa which closely resembles the Biryani. The Saudis use camel meat, lamb or beef for their Kabsa.
It is also probable that from Turkey and Arabia the dish traveled into the Maghreb or North Africa from where the Moors took the concept to Spain where the Paella evolved. I sometimes wonder whether the Italians were similarly inspired by the Paella to come up with a cheesy cousin, the Risotto?
All these ideas are so enticing, exciting and mouthwatering!
The theme that remains central here is that all that becomes fanciful and worthy of being a gourmet concept, did have plebeian and rustic beginnings.
In undivided Punjab, rustic food made from seasonal vegetables and grain that fed the peasantry have become popular allover India. Palak paneer, makki di roti, sarson da saag, gajar ka halwa are good examples of this.
Evolution of food is probably dictated, also, by economic conditions. In the middle ages when Europe was ridiculously and wretchedly poor. As affordability of food and meat was a big issue, several cured meat preparations evolved. The not-so-desired parts of the pig, for instance went into blood sausage, head cheese, lardo, terrines, pâtés, galantines and other mouthwatering stuff. I recently saw a an episode of From Spain With Love on Fox Traveler where a family feast centered around one whole pig - every part, every organ - little or big was cured, preserved, processed or cooked and finally consumed. 
All that stuff has become gourmet now!
In Scotland, the Haggis has become a part of the cultural folklore. Wikipedia tells me that Haggis is made of sheep's heart, liver and lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal's stomach and simmered for approximately three hours.  The Wikipedia page also talks of the origins of haggis -- When a Chieftain or Laird required an animal to be slaughtered for meat (whether sheep or cattle) the workmen were allowed to keep the offal as their share. Food writer  and chef of Bizarre Foods fame, Andrew Zimmern, has said that Haggis was "born of necessity, as a way to utilize the least expensive cuts of meat and the innards as well!"
Years ago, I saw the first episode of the first season of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations titled "France: Why the French Don't Suck". Rightly so, the series was kicked off in the gastronomical Mecca, Paris. Anthony visited a small local eatery and a rich, deliciously heartwarming stew that was once food for the poor in the middle ages - it was made of discarded meat organs simmered away to glory. But today it is a treasured delicacy today. 
Another place that keeps the legacy of past alive in Paris is the world's biggest food market, Marché d'Intérêt National de Rungis where one can buy meats that were once a necessity but today, well, are at a premium - stuff like game, rabbit, pig trotters, pig heads, brains, hearts, wild boar (reminded of Obelix the Gaul), various birds and varieties of sea-food. It is quite a lot of gore and blood and certainly Rungis is not for the fainthearted. But it is on my radar, whenever I visit Paris - I am told there are organised tours of the market at Rungis, which I would certainly participate in.
I have come to believe food evolves, grows and travels alongwith growth of civilizations, their migrations and their intermingling. It's those innovations, fusions and evolutions that keep foodies like me yearning for more, more and yet some more! 
I don't want Nirvana, I want to be reborn over and over again to partake great food, as it evolves!

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Magic of Haleem

In the city of Mumbai, the months of May, June and July are tough to get by - these are the long long months, with no mid-weeks breaks! Between the first of May, which is Maharashtra Day and fifteenth of August, the Independence Day, there is usually no holiday.
What makes life tougher in these three months is the general lazy atmosphere with overcast skies and a incessant, copious downpour, which unfortunately has been quite scanty this year. Getting out of bed, early in the mornings is a tough tough task, certainly not for the fainthearted!
But then August brings alongwith it a string of holidays and festivities - in short, a lot to look forward. One particularly lazy morning, a week back brought back that exciting anticipation back. It was a dull morning, and I was down with a mild flu, but not getting to work and calling in sick was not an option at all that day. I dragged myself out of bed, my body aching with the aches of the flu. After getting dressed at a snail's pace, a voice reached out for me. Neeti had laid out the breakfast table, with our standard healthy fare that we have come to be used to - oatmeal with soaked almonds, assorted fruit and upma.
As I grudgingly ate my breakfast, a frontpage article in Mint caught my attention that said "The business of haleem". Now haleem is a Hyderabadi delicacy, of Yemeni origins, usually relished during festivities and also during Ramzan. The article spoke of Pista House, a Hyderabadi eatery, taking in orders online and arranging same-day air freight delivery of Haleem in some cities, including Mumbai.
My lethargy miraculously vanished and the first thing I did was to check out the Pista House website. As the day progressed, the usual grind in office made me forget about the magic that I had experienced in the morning.
In the evening while driving back home, I was reminded of Haleem. The first I did on reaching home was to place an order online for the next evening, which happened to be a Friday. One kilogramme of Haleem is priced at Rs. 485, which is quite economical, considering that the delicacy is air dashed to you to tingle your tongue!
On Friday evening, I got a call from an unknown number confirming my address for delivery. I was assured my Haleem pack would reach me by 9.30PM. Neeti reached home at 9PM and I had warmed up her dinner. She asked me what I was upto, with a twinkle in my eyes, I told her about my Haleem order and that I would rather wait for Haleem to come in. Neeti prefers being a vegetarian and eggetarian but does occasionally have meat products, usually chicken and fish, but in conventional preparations, nothing gory, nothing outlandish. She affirmatively told me that she would wait for my Haleem to come in. 

The next one hour was agonising - my Haleem came in at 10.30PM. I bolted for the door probably faster than Usain Bolt. There it was - a red tub from Pista House! The magic of e-commerce was there to be seen, a small business establishment had successfully ventured beyond its usual catchment area, through the internet!
The Haleem was quickly opened, it was quite a lot - I took out a bowl full and stored the rest in my deep freeze, my personal safety vault of exotic meats! Next my bowl was microwaved for a good 2 minutes, sprinkled lime on top and I was ready to dig in.

Mmmmmm, heavenly, delightful, soothing, juicy and meaty! My flu was gone, albeit, temporarily. Probably that's the therapeutic effect of great food! As the festival season sets in, I am sure there's a lot of good food coming my way!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Seven Wonders

Being a Thursday morning, it had to be Rainbow 107.1 FM on my car stereo. On Thursdays, RJ Keisha is on the air and today she had a wonderful story to tell.
Junior high school students in Chicago were studying the Seven Wonders of the World. At the end of the lesson, the students were asked to list what they considered to be the Seven Wonders of the World. Though there was some disagreement, the following received the most votes: Egypt's Great Pyramids, the Taj Mahal in India, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the Panama Canal, the Empire State Building, St. Peter's Basilica and China's Great Wall
While gathering the votes, the teacher noted that one student, a quiet girl, hadn't turned in her paper yet. So she asked the girl if she was having trouble with her list. The quiet girl replied, "Yes, a little. I couldn't quite make up my mind because there were so many." The teacher said, "Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help."
The girl hesitated, then read, "I think the Seven Wonders of the World are to touch..., to taste..., to see..., to hear... (She hesitated a little, and then added...),  to feel..., to laugh... and to love.
The room was so quiet, you could have heard a pin drop. 
Keisha's story was a reminder to me not to overlook these precious gifts as simple and ordinary.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

If You Do What You've Always Done, You'll Get What You've Always Gotten ...

Here's another post on Alexander the Great, after the last one on his three last wishes, which was published here on April 8, 2010. 
I came across this story on the internet. the central message of the story is that when faced with a seemingly intractable problem, a very effective creative thinking strategy is to play the revolutionary, and challenge the rules.
In the winter of 333 B.C., the Macedonian general Alexander and his army arrived in the Asian city of Gordium to take up winter quarters. While there, Alexander heard about the legend surrounding the town’s famous knot, the “Gordian Knot.” A prophecy states that whoever is able to untie this strangely complicated knot will become the king of Asia.
The story intrigued Alexander, and he asked to be taken to the knot so that he could attempt to untie it. He studied it for a bit, but after some fruitless attempts to find the rope ends, he was stymied. “How can I unfasten this knot?” he asked himself. Then he got an idea: “I will make up my own knot-untying rules.” He pulled out his sword and sliced the knot in half. Asia was fated to him.
It is a different matter that a little while later, the conqueror of the world was vanquished by fever at Babylon. That is the irony - while greatness does rise from the soil, it also does does become soil one day. 
Call it going a full circle.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Best Things In Life Are Free

It's indeed true that you don't need a million (or even a billion) dollars to be happy. Happiness does come from small little events, things and encounters that are so much a part of our everyday life.
For me the songs of Kenny Rogers have always uplifted me, especially those from his 1983 album Eyes That See In The Dark. I was first introduced to Kenny Rogers in 1990 when our neighbour, Lovina, bought the album. Much later, in the mid-1990s, on a trip to Delhi, I bought the album from Adarsh Stores at Janpath, New Delhi. All these numbers became my favorites, and still remain to this day.
What's endearing about Kenny Rogers is his voice. His voice has such an indescribable roughness that blends well with that distinctive, unmistakable warmth and that unique blend lends a great deal of credibility to his country music.
His duet with Dolly Parton, Islands In The Stream has always been a hot favourite since the 1990s. It was only in 2008 that I saw a video of this song on YouTube, which made me fall in love all-over again, not only with the song but also with Kenny's voice.

Just yesterday, while in a traffic jam on the way to office, on a whim, I tweeted RJ Hrishi Kay with my request to play Islands In The Stream. And after about an hour when I was just about entering Bandra Kurla Complex, Islands In The Stream was aired, which went on right till I reached my parking lot. I was pleasantly surprised.
The heartwarming song made my day and I walked with a spring in my step and with a smile on my face to my office! 
That reminded me of Coco Chanel's quote, "The best things in life are free. The second best are very expensive."
That's when I thanked RJ Hrishi Kay on Twitter and I promptly did get a reply!
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